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GBR Press: Mourn Death of Adder?

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Posted by: W von Papineäu at Wed Mar 30 11:30:01 2011  [ Report Abuse ] [ Email Message ] [ Show All Posts by W von Papineäu ]  

THE TELEGRAPH (London, UK) 29 March 11 Should we celebrate or mourn the death of Britain's only venomous snake? (Dr Pete Wedderburn, DVM)
One of the under-rated benefits of living in the United Kingdom is the lack of hazards in our natural environment. There are no scary scorpions, toxic tarantulas, rabies-carrying wildlife nor life-threatening sea creatures. The only venomous wild creature is the adder, or viper. And the news is that even this threat may be on the way out. In fact, scientists are so worried about the dwindling adder population that they’re taking steps to prevent its extinction, including DNA profiling. They’re even considering taking the type of actions to prevent inbreeding and promote genetic diversity that Jemima Harrison would love to introduce for pedigree dogs. Should they bother? Or should we instead be quietly pleased that, as the last adder dies, the United Kingdom will become a marginally safer place?
The last human to die of an adder bite was over thirty five years ago, so the snakes can hardly be seen as a serious public health issue. What about the risk to animals? One person commenting on the Daily Mail article says that “in a warm summer, vets are inundated with people bringing in dogs that have been bitten”. I don’t think that there’s any evidence of that; in areas where adders are relatively common (such as the New Forest), a vet might see a couple of cases a year, which is hardly a tidal wave. Instances of confirmed bites (as in dog yelps, owner sees snake) are far less common that “suspected bites”, which could be caused by other insect stings or allergic reactions of various types. And even when a dog is bitten by an adder, it’s rarely fatal.
So my response is “yes, the population of adders should be looked after”. The preservation of wild animal species is important. When the last member of any species dies, the world becomes a lesser place. Another small but unique piece of genetic code is lost.
To quote an ecology website, many plants and animals may not carry obvious direct benefits, but they “clean air, regulate our weather and water conditions, provide control for crop pests and diseases, and offer a vast genetic library from which we can withdraw many useful items. Extinction of a species could potentially mean the loss of a cure for cancer, a new antibiotic drug, or a disease-resistant strain of wheat. Each living plant or animal may have values yet undiscovered.”
People may not like adders, and they do present a small but significant risk to people and animals using the countryside, but that doesn’t mean that we should stand by and watch them vanish.
Should we celebrate or mourn the death of Britain's only venomous snake?<>


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